Friday, December 20, 2013

Owls and Other Muses

Lisa Stowe, my guest today, may not be a familiar name to you, but she has a long writing and editing history. I’ve known her since Death By A Dark Horse was named something else, and was in its initial, very rough, form.

At the time, she headed up a writers’ group at our local library. What impressed me was her quiet attention to each budding writer and her ability to discern just what each piece of work needed – then deliver the information in a manner that both challenged and encouraged the author rather than dispirit.

Knowing I’d found the help I needed, I handed over my rough draft of DBADH. When she was done reading it, her suggestion was to start the story a little farther into my manuscript. I swallowed hard, and pondered her advice for three days because, as all writers know, cutting out your darlings is painful. At last, because I trusted her, the first seventy-five pages were severed, and … I knew I’d done the right thing. Since then, she has taught me much and encouraged my growth as a writer, for which I am very grateful.

I think you’ll understand, when you read her contribution to my blog, why I feel she is well qualified to coax a story from a writer. She has a gentle warmth and humor that make her wise words difficult to forget.


Parliament of owlsSomeone once told me that my guardian spirit was an owl. She then said she’d never seen so many around one person, that they perched along my roof line and in the trees. I thought that was a cool image, although I didn’t know if I should be thrilled or terrified. Another friend researched owls as guardian spirits and told me they were the keepers of stories.

So where do stories come from? Those guardian spirits that hold them safe.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? I enjoy thinking I’m surrounded by owls. Kind of like being in Hogwarts. Dropping stories down as I need them, rather like owl pellets in word form.

The reality is something different though. Rather than coming from an owl, I find myself listening in on conversations. I recently heard a woman talking about remodeling. It was, to be honest, a boring story. I started thinking it would be way more fun if this happened, and then if that started up, and then this person could jump in, and then what if…

And instantly I’ve daydreamed my way into something entertaining, while smiling and nodding to a story about plumbing problems.

Sometimes it’s a question that intrigues me. The Memory Keeper started because my father thought a bordello madam was his biological mother. He died before finding out and I knew the question would haunt me forever if I couldn’t answer it. So I did, in a story. What if she was his mother? What if a young woman looked for her grandfather’s history, looked for that madam, and old buried secrets came out in the open? What would those secrets be, and who would care?

For me, when I ask that question, the answer I receive isn’t a complete book, or even a full story. Usually I see the very last scene. I always know what the last line of the story is, and the writing process is figuring out how to get to that point. The questions get me wandering down a foggy path toward a clear ending.

‘What if…’ is a magical question. I ask it when eavesdropping on life.

And of course, by waiting for an owl to poop an idea down on my head.


To read more about Lisa and gain writing insight, visit her blog The Story River. If you need an editor, she is Outlaw Creek Editing. To spend some quality time with beautifully written, absorbing mysteries pick up The Memory Keeper and then Sparrow’s Silence at any retailer. They’re in print and e-book format. Here’s some links to make it easy for you:

Smashwords: All E-Books

All other retailers -- search Lisa Stowe or the book title.

Saturday, December 14, 2013



Diane Vallere
I'd like to introduce all of you to a friend of mine, Diane Vallere. We've known each other for years, belong to the same organizations, served on committees together, but ... we've never met. Gotta love the internet! I'd know her in an instant if I saw her on the street, and I know enough about her to tell all of you that she is one of the most creative people I've ever met. 

Diane is a prolific author of  short stories (in 3 anthologies), full length novels that include two separate series; The Style and Error Series and the Mad for Mod Series -- so far a total of 7 titles -- and is working on a Fabric Shop Mystery Series for publisher Berkley Prime Crime. 


She also worked for years as a buyer for one of THE most famous luxury goods retailers, traveling the world to runway shows, shoe markets and lingerie fairs. Is she qualified to write what she writes? Darned toot'n! She's got the fashion industry nailed, and her books make you feel like you're part of it (I know this because I've read them all). Diane is also supremely qualified to hold forth on the genesis of ideas for entertaining stories, but I'll bet you've figured that out by now. So, without further ado, here's Diane!

Diane's newest!

Most people who know me know how much I love Project Runway. And the one thing that resonates with me each week is how the designers are given their inspiration and immediately told to sketch their ideas. Thirty minutes, and then off to Mood Fabrics. The designer who can channel their inspiration and merge it with their brand quickly has a much easier time when it comes to selecting material and assembling a dress.

In a way, I approach my books like a designer. Each series is a collection; the combination of my books make up my brand. And the inspiration can come from anywhere: a line at the bank, a day at the beach, an appointment with a personal shopper, an old movie. The best way for me to keep rejuvenating the pool of ideas in my head is to keep exposing myself to new things.

This is the single most important part of my full-time writing life.While juggling writing with a full time job, I didn’t have the luxury of staring at a blank page. I had to be able to turn on my writing when I had a pocket of time. That was a great skill to develop. But that skill was born out of a different skill: the ability to find ideas in everyday life. In order to turn on the writer during my 1 hour lunch break, I needed to have a cache of ideas ready to be mined.

I keep a composition book for every project that I’m working on, and any time something strikes me that might work somewhere in a book, I jot it down in the notebook. (I am a compulsive composition book buyer for this reason). I buy them in coordinating sets of three to represent three books in a series. If I get an idea for a future book, I can tear out the page and clip it to the cover for the next book in that series.

Example: Because I knew I wanted to use a counterfeiting crime as part of the plot of THAT TOUCH OF INK, I was especially tuned into anything involving money. I watched how people acted at the bank. I paid attention to people who used cash instead of credit. When something struck me, I’d write it in the designated composition book. When I needed to shake loose an idea, I’d flip through the composition book until something felt fresh. That doesn’t mean I only had ideas about counterfeiting crimes during that time. In fact, I was so in tune with those characters that I got the idea for the third book in the series too. Since my writing schedule didn’t allow for me to write it right away, I started a new notebook with those ideas. (I started the third book in November and found a lot of ideas that just needed to be fleshed out!)

Getting ideas is easy—as long as I keep myself exposed to what is going on outside of my computer!


Want to find out more about Diane's books? Go to her blog DIANE VALLERE (Go on, click on her name), and read excerpts from her books. All her books are available in print and e-book formats. She's got links to Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Nobel, Indiebound -- you name it. You'll find her everywhere. I can guarantee a delightful read!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Great Idea Fairy

Yes, that’s exactly where story ideas come from.

Wow! You mean they're real!?!

Sometime, in the middle of the night, the Great Idea Fairy squeezes her voluptuous self through my partially opened bedroom window (I need fresh air when I sleep), and whacks me over the head with her hefty magic storybook.
 I wish.

Paul's chance to be a hero. Did he blow it?
For me, it can be difficult to find the source of my next tale, and it often isn’t where I expect it to be. If I’m lucky, the story I’ve just written suggests the next. That happened with Levels of Deception. I was deep into editing Death By A Dark Horse and the characters were flexing their muscles, begging to go off on more adventures. Paul wanted to go to Montana and dig up dinosaur bones and Thea, fresh from victory, was wanting to be a hero again. Okay, to be honest, Paul wanted a shot at hero, too.

Did I want to make them happy? Darned right I did. They were fun and adventurous. And what better way to make them happy than give them both what they wanted – which had to put them in direct conflict with each other.

That made me happy. Nothing like two people struggling to “make it work” and ready to sacrifice it all for that goal. Throw in a murder and danger from an unknown source, to up the stakes, and … Wow! My hands are already sweating!

A real-life baddie inspired this story.
Shooting to Kill, the most recent in the series, had it’s source in an article I read about a real person. The article gave me the creeps, and I wondered how someone who was more than a bubble and a half off plumb could con so many smart people and not be found out until something violent happened. What would it take to coexist with someone like this? I knew the ends would they go to in order to accomplish their goal, but what would happen if someone stepped into their path?

Obviously, here was a job for Thea and Paul.  

Lacking a personal Great Idea Fairy, I fall back on gaming out the old “what if” theme. How do I choose which of the many ideas to use? There are plus points if my protagonists can be in conflict with each other as well as other characters. I like to stir things up. Other than that, well, if I can imagine some humor and unusual twists I’ve likely got myself a story to tell.

Because every writer has his or her own twist on story creation, I’ve enlisted a number of my writer-friends to reveal the spark that drives their creativity. Over the coming weeks a variety of authors whose styles and processes differ from mine will stop by. It'll be fun to get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes workings of some very talented folks. I'm looking forward to it!

Sigh. Please, don't tell me you believe her drivel about who comes up with the stories. And I'm NOT voluptuous.